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The Land of the Rising Blossoms: Detecting Climate Change through the Growth Rate of Cherry Blossoms by Barnard Blogger Erin Machida-Kwok

In Japan, cherry blossoms (or sakura in Japanese) are the epitome of spring. Hanami is known as the long standing tradition of welcoming spring1 as well as the annual appreciation of the fleeting beauty of nature. People congregate to enjoy festivities under the breath taking panorama of blooming flowers. Japanese citizens as well as tourists patiently wait to admire the beautiful flower trees that cascade the streets each year. Cherry blossom season typically begins in late March/early April, with the prime bloom only lasting up to a week.

In 1829 the peak blooming date was around April 18th. Since 1951, groups of meterologists and climatologists have been researching the advance of Japanese cherry tree blooming. According to two Japanese scientists, Yasuyuki Aono and Keiko Kazui, the full-blossom date for Kyoto’s cherry blossom trees can predict the March temperatures to within 0.1°C. The growth of cherry blossom trees is dependent on the weather in the months of February and March. As a result, the peak blooming date for cherry blossoms happens earlier in the year.

This phenomenon is not just occurring in Japan. The Japanese cherry blossom craze began in the US when the wife of the Japanese ambassador and First Lady Helen Herron Taft planted cherry tree seedlings from Japan on March 27th 1912. Since the National Cherry Blossom Festival launched in 1927, global warming has affected the blooming date in DC as well. Blooming now begins 5 days earlier than the original recorded date.

Every time I return home to Japan, I compare how warm it is compared to the previous year. However, I never think about the actual causes or the consequences of rising temperatures. Through data analysis by Yasyuki Aono, we are able to gain further insight into just how imminent the danger of climate change is in Japan. Aono estimates that temperatures have gone up at least 3.4°C (6.1°F) since 1820.




As seen by the graph above, Washington’s full bloom date has shifted five days earlier from the 6th of April to the 1st in between 1921 and 2017, whilst Kyoto’s from the 12th of April to the 5th. In Washington, D.C. as well as Kyoto, rising temperatures and earlier peak bloom dates are associated with the urban heat island (UHI) effect and growing concentrations of GHG. An urban heat island is a phenomenon in which urbanized areas may have higher temperatures than their surrounding rural landscapes. In an effort to mitigate this problem, the Diet of Japan has established the ‘Outline of the Policy Framework to Reduce UHI” in 2004, which imposes conditions such as annually monitoring measures in order to reduce temperatures in urban areas, as well as releasing a progress report to the public to diffuse the importance of the issue. 6The UHI measures also include the reduction of artificial heat emissions, avoiding the build up of heat by creating wind paths, promoting greening especially in urban farming, and improving pavement surfaces.7

 
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Making Boston Resilient by Barnard Blogger Alexander Hedge

My relationship with the City of Boston runs very deep. It all started back in May of 1997 when I was born in the South End. I moved away when I was a small child, but returned to my hometown last summer to work for a construction firm. During that summer I lived with my brother in Southie near Castle Island. It was a lovely place to spend the summer, but that might not be the case for much longer. As climate scientists release new modeling studies of climate change and sea level rise, it is clear that cities in the Northeast region of America face some of the biggest threats. When climate models are applied to places like the City of Boston, the implications of projected sea level rise look very alarming. Thankfully there has been a push by the City and Mayor Walsh to prepare for the worst case scenario. This all encompassing plan to protect the coastline of the City, including places like my brother’s neighborhood in Southie, aims to bolster the City’s resilience.

A recent study released by the City of Boston along with the help of the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management and the Barr Foundation highlights the sea level rise that will accompany melting ice sheets in Antarctica as well as the sporadic and intense bouts of extreme weather that are also expected in the not too distant future. In this study the authors go on to state that “Climate Ready Boston projections indicate that Boston’s sea levels will probably rise (from 2000 levels) by at least 9 inches by 2030, 21 inches by as soon as 2050, and 36 inches by as soon as 2070.” While 9-36 inches of sea level rise doesn’t seem like it is that much it stands to completely change the face of the City of Boston.

The sea level rise that Boston faces has also been covered by local media. In a recent Boston Globe article titled “Climate change could be even worse for Boston than previously thought”, there was an in depth story covering the changes that the city faces and what these changes would mean for residents. The article describes some of the implications of projected sea level rise stating that “Such a dramatic rise would be devastating to Boston. Faneuil Hall, for example, now floods at 5 feet and Copley Square at 7.5 feet above today’s high tides”. This means that if there is 36 inches of sea level rise places like Faneuil Hall, where my summer office was, would flood more frequently. This stands to not only impact the place that I worked, but also my Brother’s home in Southie. It is almost unbelievable to think that climate change could displace my family within the next couple of decades.

The positive thing that did come from all of this coverage was a concerted effort by the City of Boston to prepare for the worst. For example, a series of near-term and long-term actions to protect the coastline of Boston and Charlestown have been proposed. This also has exciting implications for me because of my own working background in the construction industry. When I worked for a construction firm I mostly worked on projects that were LEED Certified by the US Green Building Council, but I could easily make the pivot to work towards preparing my hometown for sea level rise. The bulk of the work that was proposed in the study was “Elevated parks and pathways at Mario Umana and Shore Plaza” which could protect a large number of residents from the effects of sea level rise. It’s reassuring in the face of all of these challenges to know there is something that I can do to protect my city and my family.

 
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What can you as students do to help to solve climate change? by Barnard Blogger Anna Kaplan

A way in which I or anyone can impact climate change is to change our everyday behaviors. I am talking about gradually adopting a zero-waste form of life. Zero-waste can be achieved with a circular economy in which things are designed not to produce waste as an end product. It is about being intentional about the things we buy and do. The “we” touches on various levels of organization: the individual, communities, governments, and businesses.

Our economy today may be called linear since products are generally produced, consumed, and then thrown out with an end product called waste. This linear economy has existed along with overconsumption since the 1950s and it is expanding. Changing this established economic structure requires a multi-directional approach as complex as our current consumption systems. It requires governments, manufacturers, businesses, and individuals to provide resources and take responsibility for proper materials management. Furthermore, creating more sustainable products and developing a zero-waste culture will require research and collaboration by behavioral scientists, designers, marketers, and other professionals.

On an individual level, popular zero-waste public personas such as Lauren Singer and Bea Johnson promote slowly incorporating zero-waste habits into your life. For example, instead of purchasing a new bottle of face wash when you run out, make it yourself. Embracing do it yourself (DIY) means an individual is producing their products as needed allowing for the reduction of consumption. Producing our own products also means that we are able to choose what goes into our products. There is a vast list of chemicals in hygiene, cleaning, and beauty products that may have adverse effects on our health and the environment. For example phthalates, a group of chemicals found in beauty and cleaning products, have been found to be endocrine-disrupting. Producing our own products would allow us to become more educated about what our products contain and, consequently, reduce consumption of toxics and environmental pollution.

Many more actions are required for an individual to completely switch to a zero-waste lifestyle. Yet, these actions need governmental and business level action. On the governmental level, funds must be allocated to provide the infrastructure for practices such as recycling and composting to occur. Furthermore, inequalities such as accessibility of food markets must be faced and addressed. Businesses and manufacturers need to take on the responsibility to design and produce products that can be easily recycled or reused. Zero-waste is a complex goal to achieve but it can begin with changes at the community or individual level.

 
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Risk of Coastal Cities to Increasingly Intense Weather Events by a Barnard Blogger

The dangers that climate change poses on coastal cities is an evolving threat as development of the cities and their use of land changes on a regular basis, especially considering the fact that costal development is often tied to commercial interests rather than functionality. Sea level rising and the effects of costal erosion change the ways in which a community can experience storm surge and present a new set of challenges for those who face a large storm. Inland cities and urban areas deal with effects of precipitation, but in large wetland areas the water level rising has presented new issues with flooding. 1 In Texas communities on the Gulf of Mexico sea level rise effects natural disasters by increasing the intensity of the storm. 2 The effects of climate change on coastal cities infrastructure throughout the United States highlights the problems with an already decaying system. Because of sea level rise and warmer water temperatures, the intensity of hurricanes and other tropical storm systems are projected to increase by 20-30% in the 21st century. 3 The increase in intensity means that the damage will be greater and communities not protected by governmental programs face different types of risk.

The damages caused by flooding and other issues present a unique challenge to cities in the continental U.S. because of their dependence on a service economy. The development of cities in high risk areas presents a unique situation in which the effects of stronger storm systems will put those who are working class in more risk as their access to housing and work. Historic precipitation caused flooding in Houston. In Figure 1.taken from a New York Times article exploring potential rebuilding in Houston, the red represents the areas with reported flood damage from Hurricane Harvey and the grey is the 100 year flood plan. 4 Those without flood insurance and other means to access capital experience the aftermath of the disasters like Harvey differentially.

State sponsored programs respond to disasters in ways that reinforce class boundaries making the recovery process political. If the lack of regulation allowed people to buy and rent homes in markets that were at risk then a comment must be made about what needs to be done to protect them. Fig. 2 shows the rates of poverty in Houston. The two maps side by side show that in areas in which flooding occurred effected communities with high rates of poverty. The effects of these natural disasters on communities that do not have the ability to move or have the protections in place when flooding and other natural disasters hit can be disastrous. The political side of global warming and the rising sea level is that communities throughout the United States are dependent on insurance programs that evaluate risk to one’s property. In a city like Houston where, according to the 2010 census, 47% of homes are owned by their occupant, 50% of those who live there are not entitled to the same protection. Because the intensity of storms is increasing and the damage continues to be one of the ways in which we evaluate a storm, then the response needs to be changed to include those impacted by the storm who do not have home ownership and other means of capital. The success rate of rebuilding cannot be analyzed by how a city rebuilds itself and their property costs but rather success in dealing with those who are internally displaced and become refugees.

 

 
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The Natural State and Climate Change by Barnard Blogger Maggie Israel

I was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas and Arkansas is undoubtedly the place I know best. The state nickname is The Natural State as it boasts some of the most beautiful scenery in the nation such as the Ozark National Forest, Petit Jean State Park, and the Buffalo River. Several of Arkansas’s major industries (agriculture, forestry, and outdoor tourism) rely on the health and stability of its environment. Unfortunately, the Natural State is already seeing the effects of climate change and adverse impacts will only worsen as climate change continues.

Agriculture is Arkansas’s biggest industry, contributing $16 billion annually to the state’s economy with 36% of state land dedicated to farmland. The top five crops are rice (Arkansas is the number 1 producer of rice in the nation), soybeans, cotton, corn for grain, and wheat with broilers and cattle making up the bulk of the livestock products. Since 1970, average temperatures in the Southeast have risen by 2 degrees and are expected to rise another 4 to 8 degrees by 2100. According to the EPA, in 2090 there will be 30-60 days each summer above 95ºF (today we have 15-30). These increased temperatures are expected to reduce the yields of rice and corn and will hurt the livestock industry. However, soybeans and cotton may benefit more from carbon fertilization while they are simultaneously affected by rising temperatures. Thus, yields of these crops are expected to remain stable.

Rising temperatures and drier summers associated with climate change will increase the likelihood of wildfires which could adversely impact forestry. Heat waves will affect recreation during the summer and the outdoor activities that people can engage in Arkansas. Higher temperatures will also affect water availability as a result of increased evaporation. During the spring and summer, precipitation rates have decreased as well resulting in an increased risk of drought which will only exacerbate any existing water stress. Two-thirds of Arkansas’s water resources come from groundwater and farmers use the bulk of it for irrigation. This is relevant because the groundwater supply has already been depleted to meet growing agricultural and irrigation needs.

Conversely, precipitation during the fall and winter has increased and exacerbated flood risk for communities along major rivers. Increased precipitation rates in the Midwest affect flooding in Arkansas because the Mississippi River makes up the eastern border of the state. The increased rainfall may also increase soil erosion that hurts the agriculture and forestry industries. The EPA recognizes precipitation induced flooding as the major climate change-related threat to Arkansas. Flood events can result in massive amounts of property damage, harm to crops and livestock, as well as infrastructure damage.

In addition, the social impacts of climate change are becoming increasingly evident. Heat waves are expected to result in more heat related deaths in larger cities like Little Rock, disproportionately affecting children, the elderly, the sick, and the poor. Extreme heat contributes to declining air quality as it accelerates the formation of ground level ozone (smog). Climate change will also increase pest populations such as ticks in Arkansas resulting in more vector-borne diseases like Lyme disease. Moreover, a social consequence of climate change is an influx of climate refugees from the Marshall Islands to northwest Arkansas. Their homes are being lost to sea level rise and this has caused an unprecedented mass migration.

Despite being notoriously conservative, politicians in Arkansas are preparing to combat climate change. Two Arkansas mayors, Little Rock mayor Mark Stodola and Fayetteville mayor Lioneld Jordan , support the Paris Agreement and have committed to bolstering local efforts to become more sustainable. Local efforts to combat climate change and environmental degradation may be more effective than any symbolic national efforts. I am hopeful that a combination of local and national efforts will succeed in keeping the Natural State accessible to farmers as well as people who simply love the outdoors.

 
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